Alarcon, wife again plead not guilty to voter fraud charges
Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, on Friday again proclaimed their innocence on 24 felony charges of perjury and voter fraud refiled by the district attorney's office -- one day after a judge threw out the original case.
The Alarcons each entered a plea of not guilty to new charges alleging they lied about living in a Panorama City house so that he could run for his 7th District office. Prosecutors allege they were actually living in his wife's house in Sun Valley, just outside his district.
Thursday morning, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy threw out the case, granting a defense motion to dismiss based on procedural errors.
Deputy Dist. Atty Jennifer Lentz Snyder said this time she will take the case to a preliminary hearing -- the traditional route of criminal filings -- instead of a grand jury. At a preliminary hearing, a judge hears evidence in a public courtroom and rules whether the evidence in the case is sufficent to set for trial.
Grand jury proceedings are done behind closed doors.
"This is a way for the public to hear evidence at a public hearing,'' Lentz Snyder said. "That way any of the problems that Judge Kennedy seemed to be hung up on simply won't occur."
The Alarcons, in a statement released after the hearing, expressed confidence that they would again beat the charges.
"We were pleased that yesterday, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled to dismiss all of the charges against us, and we remain confident that once the exonerating evidence we provided is considered, that we will be acquitted of these charges,'' the statement said.
A grand jury in July 2010 indicted the couple after prosecutors presented a case in which 31 prosecution witnesses testified. Kennedy found that Lentz Snyder did not properly instruct grand jurors on their duty to consider defense evidence contained in a packet of documents submitted by the Alarcons' attorneys.
Kennedy, in the Thursday morning hearing, also stated that she thought prosecutors didn't give grand jurors guidance on the difference between a "domicile" and a "residence," a legal distinction at the heart of the case.
Lentz Snyder defended the district attorney's swift action in refiling the charges, saying it's common practice in criminal cases. Richard Alarcon's attorney, Fred Woocher, said it was a disappointing morning for the couple.
"They had to book them again, take fingerprints again, take photos,'' Woocher said. "They did all that two years ago and for whatever reason, we start over again."
The earliest possible date for a trial would be in mid-October, Lentz Snyder said. "We think the evidence will sustain a conviction.''
Alarcon is seeking election to the 39th Assembly District and is locked in a tough battle with Democratic challenger Raul Bocanegra. The top two finishers in the June 5 primary will face off in November.
-- Catherine Saillant
Photo: Richard Alarcon, right, and his attorney, Fredric D. Woocher, are shown during an arraignment in 2010. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times